The Zoning Board of Adjustment dedicated more than two hours during its June 15 meeting to a contentious hearing on a proposed new construction home. The result: The applicant will be back to present revised architectural plans at the board’s July 28 meeting.
The property in question is the .26-acre lot at 44 Wheatsheaf Lane, a cul-de-sac off Snowden Lane just one block from Princeton-Kingston Road consisting primarily of houses built around 1950, most of which are well under 2,000 square feet. Harry’s Brook — a source of bucolic views but also frequent flooding — runs behind the homes on the north side of the street, including number 44.
The house at 44 in particular is a single-story 1,300-square-foot two bedroom, one-bath home that last sold in August, 2020, for $460,000. The real estate listing at the time described it as the “perfect project house” which required more than a little TLC “after a broken water main during freezing winter weather. Immediate damage has been repaired, but needs more work to put it back in liveable condition.”
The new owner of the home intends to renovate for use by his daughter and appeared with architects and attorneys before the Zoning Board to present plans for an entirely new home on the lot. The new home, with two floors and a flat green roof, would have 2,768 square feet of livable space with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. The front of the proposed home would include a carport and covered entryway.
Zoning approval is required for the application because the home lies on a nonconforming lot. Wheatsheaf Lane lies in the R-5 zone, which requires a minimum of a half-acre lot, whereas the property in question is roughly a quarter acre. Therefore the application was for what the board termed “routine” variances for building on an undersized lot, including lot area, lot width, and frontage, as well as side yard setbacks, carport setback, and height to setback ratio.
The new home, the architect noted, occupies a footprint only about 40 square feet larger than the existing structure. But the applicant also agreed to conform to side yard setback rules, meaning plans for the home will be revised to leave at least 15 feet between the sides of the house and the property line, rather than the 12 initially proposed.
However, the half-dozen neighbors who showed up to voice their opposition to the application viewed these variances as anything but routine. They argued that a home approaching 3,000 square feet was not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood and expressed concern about potential flooding impacts.
Wheatsheaf Lane resident Carolyn Rouse noted that past attempts to build walls to contain the creek’s flooding have failed, and because “they’re adding variance on top of variance on top of variance” the floodwaters now come from the street, resulting in a “soggy lot” both for the homeowner and for others downstream of that lot.
“It’s a beautiful house,” she said. “It’d be great if it were built somewhere else.”
“Even small additions add up,” noted resident Peter Burt, referring to the outsize impact on flooding of small increases in impervious coverage.
Other residents questioned why the rules for the R-5 zone in question exist if exceptions are almost always granted. But board members were quick to point out that in this particular case, denying variances related to how close the walls of the house fall to the property lines render the lot essentially unusable. And the application conforms to building regulations that aren’t impacted by the size of the lot.
Board attorney Karen Cayci explained, “They are dealing with the existing ordinances in the town, so they have to reconcile those ordinances with situations that come to them where the lot is undersized — and there are many, many undersized lots in Princeton. That’s why the board asks owners, ‘can you acquire other land?’”
“What happens is in terms of precedent … the board really does look at the facts of every case. They will spend considerable time looking at the facts and making a distinction between what may have happened on one property and the property that is in front of them right now. In this situation, certainly the applicant can be asked, are they willing to reduce the size of the house, because to tell the applicant they cannot build on the lot creates a situation in which essentially it becomes a useless lot.”
The board ultimately did not vote on the application, as new plans for the home taking into consideration the concession on side yard setback will need to be presented for approval. The hearing on the application will continue at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on July 28.
Other Zoning Updates
Meanwhile, the board heard four applications at its June 23 meeting:
176 Edgerstoune Road, The Hun School of Princeton, owner/applicant. The application, delayed from two prior meetings, is for a D1 variance and related site plan application to permit the temporary conversion of the Mason House, a single family dwelling that previously served as the Head of School residence, to a temporary office use to be utilized by the Hun School. The Mason House is located in the R-2 zone and the proposed temporary office use is not permitted. The applicant is requested temporary use of the house as an office be limited to the period of the COVID-19 health emergency. The application was approved, conditional on the school returning before the board in December for an update on the situation.
270 Lambert Drive, Ben and Danna Weiss/owner and applicant, requested a hardship C1 variance to permit approval of a previously constructed deck in exception to the required side yard setback and maximum impervious coverage. The application was approved with conditions under which the deck would have to be removed in the future, as well as for requirements to install mature trees and limit additional lighting and audio equipment there.
174 Springdale Road, David and Kimberley Bitterman/owners and applicant. Variances are requested under the c(2) criteria to permit construction of a detached garage in exception to the required front yard setback, and maximum driveway width at the property line. The plan was approved.
46 Nassau Street, PSLP, LLC, owner, JAND Inc., applicant. A use variance and related site plan application were filed to permit the partial conversion of a retail use to an office use in a zone where such use is not permitted on the first floor. A retail eyeglass store is requesting the use variance to allow for a portion of the space to be utilized as medical office for eye exams. The application was approved.
One additional application, for a parking space in exception to required front and side yard setbacks at 193 Harrison Street, was carried to the July 28 Zoning Board meeting.